How can I eat more ethically?
October 8, 2013 12:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm not ready to become a vegetarian yet, but I would like to eat more ethically. What meat products are the worst to consume from an ethical standpoint? What are the most ethical to consume?

I'm bothered by factory farming and I believe my eating habits reinforce animal cruelty. At the same time, I have a high metabolism and burn through food at a crazy pace. Meat is the only thing that gives me enough energy to function through the day.

So I'm not at the point where I can give up meat entirely, but I'd like to cut back and make more ethical decisions about the meat I do consume. A few years ago, I arbitrarily cut out pork from my diet just so I could feel like I was taking some kind of positive step, but there has to be a better way to go about this process.

So, what types of food/brands/restaurants should I avoid if I'm concerned about animal cruelty? What should I be eating more of (specifically meat, but I'd be open to a few vegetarian suggestions too)?

(Side note: If possible, I do not want a ton of details about the specifics of the cruelty associated with the products. I know some discussion is inevitable, and I'm doing my own research, but I'd prefer to do it at my own pace, because it troubles me deeply)
posted by helloimjohnnycash to Food & Drink (38 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Buy meat from a local farm. We live in NYC, and literally drive to a farm a few hours outside the city once or twice a year, and bring back ~100 lbs of meat to put in the freezer. It's economical compared to buying high-quality (organic, grass-fed) meat at any nearby store -- and you can go see the (happy) cows and the farm they live on, and the pastures they graze on.
posted by wrok at 12:36 PM on October 8, 2013 [11 favorites]

I would recommend this essay for an attempt at weighing up the suffering involved in producing different kinds of animal products. Fish, eggs, chicken and turkey are at the top. Beef is relatively low down, for example, because killing a single cow (and the suffering that entails) yields a lot of meat compared to, say, a chicken, assuming they suffer similar amounts of pain per day.

Note that, in his estimation, the suffering per kilo of fish is orders of magnitude greater than in other meats. So you could cut out all fish today and eliminate a huge amount of suffering your diet causes.

People often talk about hunting their own meat. This avoids the day-to-day suffering that, say, factory farming causes, but what about the pain animals feel when they are killed (which I'd argue could well be worse in the case of hunting than in farming)?
posted by henryaj at 12:37 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have wrestled with this same issue over the past year myself. Here's what I've done:

- When I go out to eat, I order vegetarian or seafood. Period. There are a (very select) few restaurants that I am willing to eat meat at, but that is because they are very up front about what farms they get their meat from. I have pre-researched these farms.

- I decided what my criteria was going to be for the meat I am willing to consume. Free range? Fully pasture raised? Etc. I am comfortable only with meat that was 100% pasture raised. You can research farms like this in your area here.

- I made as many substitutions in my diet as possible. You can prob cut out meat here and there and replace with things like avocados/etc.

- I am currently learning to hunt/fish for my own food. Ideally I will get to the point where the only meat I consume is meat that I myself have killed (I am not at that point yet, it's a learning curve). In reality, even with buying at "responsible" farms etc, the only way to know exactly how an animal was killed is to kill it yourself. I have spent an inordinate amount of time getting really, really good at doing that.

Good luck! It thrills me to hear whenever someone decides to lead a more ethical life re: animals. I believe in the circle of life and that animals eat each other, but I also think we as an intelligent species should be as kind as possible in our choices.

Btw, buying from responsible farms will be a lot more expensive than grocery store. I get around this by eating less meat and making sure I consume EVERYTHING from the animals that I do buy.
posted by corn_bread at 12:39 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

You have 2 options:
1) Buy your own meat only from local farms that you have visited. Cook all your own food.
2) Hunt or slaughter your own meat.

Most restaurants will definitely buy inhumane meat, and all fast food places do (Chipotle and Wolfgang Puck are two slight exceptions...everywhere else has said that they have plans to do so, but haven't yet) .
posted by semaphore at 12:39 PM on October 8, 2013

Buy kosher meat. In addition to the requirement that the animal be treated humanely, the butcher is required to say a prayer, thanking the animal for its life, before killing it.
posted by Melismata at 12:43 PM on October 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Melismata, unfortunately kosher meat isn't always slaughtered according to humane standards. I just watched secret camera footage last night that showed despicable behavior. :( :(
posted by semaphore at 12:44 PM on October 8, 2013 [11 favorites]

Seconding hunting or knowing your purveyors. Lots of the "new american" farm-to-table restaurants will be happy to talk to you for days about how happy their animals are before they're killed. As mentioned above, you can often buy directly from the farmers if you find the right ones.

Wild game is a good way to go, especially if you're hunting something that has a potentially-too-healthy population going for it, like whitetail deer in most areas. You can also hunt invasive species, like pheasants. Then you'll know the critters you're eating lived freely until the end, and doing the slaughtering yourself is a nice way to feel connected to food generally.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:47 PM on October 8, 2013

What you want to do is develop a relationship with your local butcher, who can help you source meat from farmers who grass finish their larger animals (pigs, sheep, cattle) and open-air pasture their poultry.

I specify grass finish because most "happy" grass-fed cows that spend their lives noshing on grass in bucolic pastures are eventually sent to huge factory feed lots to put on weight before being slaughtered in factory farm ways. While this is obviously a huge improvement from being in a factory farm their entire lives, I'm not sure it's quite the ethical solution you're looking for.

A local butcher will know which farms keeps their animals on site at all times and do their own slaughtering. Buy meat only from these farms and you'll be doing the animals a great service.

And yeah, just don't eat meat at restaurants. Fish maybe, if the restaurant follows Seafood Watch guidelines, but even then there's a lot of mislabeling and abuse.
posted by jesourie at 12:50 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

To clarify, are your ethical concerns only/primarily about the welfare of animals (an extremely worthy concern), or are you also looking for ways to change your diet to deal with other concerns? For example, eating ethically could also include structuring your diet to help ensure fair treatment for the human workers involved in the process, or help to prevent agriculture-related environmental damage, or prevent harm to poor people in foreign countries whose ability to support themselves is affected by our agricultural economics. Because expanding what you consider when you think about eating "ethically" might cause you to think about your choices in non-meat foods, or to make different choices based on trade-offs among your concerns.
posted by decathecting at 1:00 PM on October 8, 2013 [10 favorites]

And since nobody else has yet said it and you didn't mention it: Read Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's a deep dive into the ethics of eating that touches on a lot of the suggestions people are making here.
posted by straw at 1:00 PM on October 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

Here's a simple guideline- can you tell where your meat comes from, either by the label or by the person selling it to you? If you can do that, and can verify that they're (a) not far away, and (b) raising/killing their meat reasonably well, you're doing far better than most people.

Bear in mind that there's a lot to "ethical" meat consumption than cruelty. The counterpoint to henryaj's comment is that beef requires much more energy to produce than, say, chicken. I believe pork is actually most efficient by this metric.
posted by mkultra at 1:01 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

N'thing pay attention to where your meat comes from. Go to a farmer's market. Less optimally, read the labels and talk to the butchers at your local fancy grocery store -- Wegman's, Whole Foods, etc. 'Organic' doesn't necessarily mean anything about the welfare of the animals, but 'free range' and 'cage free' etc. are ore likely to. (Mefites, chime in to correct me; I know these labels can be used in a very misleading way.)

Humanely raised meat is more expensive, but it also tastes better. Just eat less of it to compensate for the cost, and you have a double win: you are eating less meat, and the meat you do eat had a reasonably good life.
posted by kestrel251 at 1:07 PM on October 8, 2013

Don't eat pork. Pigs are way, way too smart to be treated like that. At least that's the animal I've always felt most bad about eating. Also, I've heard (though I'm not certain it's true) that goat meat is not farmed yet, so their conditions may not be as horrific.

When you eat out, I feel like grass fed beef is a better option than most meat products because it's actually popping up in a lot of restaurants (at least where I live), and I feel like if the cattle are actually raised on grass their conditions must be at least a little better if not much better than conventional cattle, due to having less health problems, infections, etc. I think that also goes for grass fed dairy (cheese, butter, yogurt, milk, etc), maybe grass fed cows lead better lives (in addition to being better for your health and environment). On occasion I do eat meat at home I often buy at Whole Foods because of their animal rating scale which is very helpful.
posted by Blitz at 1:12 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are a few faux-meat items that even my tall, energy-needing meat-loving compatriots will happily consume, because they have good texture, flavor and are kinda greasy:

hot dogs that don't taste rubbery like other tofu hot dogs but have that mmm just like kiddie crack good taste I swear it

greasy sausages (very heavy and filling; fry them until crunchy)

no chicken nuggets that taste just like mcdonalds

yummy fake chicken strips
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:17 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another angle to consider is: start eating the weird cuts of meat and the offal - feet, tails, brains, organ meats, etc. That's the approach a college friend of mine took - she personally believed it was wasteful to just eat one or two cuts of meat and throw the rest away, whereas if you ate the brains and the tripe and etc., etc., etc., then you could get more meals out of a single animal carcass.

There are recipes for nearly every edible part of any animal, because using up the whole pig/goat/cow/chicken/goose/whatever was precisely what our farming forbears did. That's why we have recipes for things like tripe or oxtail or pig's feet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:20 PM on October 8, 2013

I'm lucky in that I live in Atlanta and I can shop at Your DeKalb Farmers Market, where they tell you exactly where their meat is coming from. My beef comes from Alderspring Ranch in Idaho. Another option is West Wind Farms. They come to the Brookhaven Farmer's Market and I can get things from them too (they ship.)

So check out some of your local sources. You may be surprised at how easy it is to do business with a local farm.

Since it's expensive, you'll may have to scale back your expectations. Rib Eye steaks have made way for Hanger Steak (which is PHENOMINAL) and for London Broil. Whole Chickens instead of Breast Filets. You get the gist. The DeKalb Farmers Market also does their own inhouse sausages in chicken, so bonus!

The other thing is to add more protein via eggs, nuts, nut butters, milk, yogurt, etc.

I'm okay with where I am on the food chain, and I think it's important to support family farms with humane and healthy ranching.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:25 PM on October 8, 2013

I did exactly as you did several years ago. I gave up pork twice (pigs are the smartest of the animals we eat), but eventually I switched to grass-fed pastured beef, pork, and chicken from local farmers. I know that the animals aren't being mistreated because I go to their farm occasionally and see them graze. I have a relationship with the people who raise the cows and pigs I eat, and I know my chicken and vegetable farmer. One of the guys who raises cows I ate told me that he gets depressed for a couple weeks before and after the yearly slaughter. He cares for them. He sees that they're tended to.

Depending on your living situation, you might be able to keep a few chickens yourself, and thereby know that your eggs (and eventually soup) are from happy chickens. Hunting is also a great suggestion--you'll know the animal lived wild and how it was killed. (Hopefully, decisively. I never got the chance to do this but I trust the meat I get from hunting friends.) Check out the farmers markets in the area and figure out who has grass-fed, preferably but not necessarily grass-finished cows, and pastured pigs, goats, sheep, or chickens. Visit the farms, see the animals. Ask your local hippies about CSAs that include meat and dairy. Look into getting a cow share or pig share so that you have a large source of ethical meat.

Check the quality of the eggs you get: is the yolk a healthy, nutrient-dense deep orange or a sickly pale yellow? This can hint at how that chicken was doing that day.

If you can't get grass-fed or pastured options in a given meal, such as when eating out, go vegetarian or pescetarian.

Animals experience real abuse and suffering in factory farms. Avoiding contributing to that is commendable. But don't beat yourself up about needing meat in your diet: some people can get by without it, but many people experience terrible health problems unless they eat animal products. Do the best you can to only eat animals that lived a good life and were killed as humanely as possible, but remember that your health and well-being matters too.
posted by daveliepmann at 1:27 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I formerly ate a vegan diet (I did not do well on that diet) and I have worked with selling meat from local farms for the past four years. My family bought a beef farm two years ago. I would say the hardest animal products to find from an animal welfare perspective are milk, poultry, and eggs. A lot of even organic dairies use animal husbandry practices I find repugnant such as caging calves for veal. A lot of small farms that produce eggs and poultry are using smaller scale factory farmed methods and the animals are largely confined and I feel they have a low quality of life, though some would argue that it's better for the animals because predation is lower.

By and large I focus on pastured goat, lamb, and beef. I have started and run some buying clubs called "meatshare" and that involved getting together and splitting a whole animal. It also allows me to go visit the farm and the slaughterhouse. It is also pretty affordable if you bulk buy, esp if you have a chest freezer. I managed to do a lot of this when I lived in NYC in a very tiny apartment and no car. I called around, looked through craigslist and local harvest, but you might skip that if someone else is already running a bulk buy club near you. You can PM me with your location if you need a lead.

I have a hunting license, but I think people underestimate the amount of time you need to devote to that from practicing with your weapon to scouting out locations to just sitting and waiting for animals.
posted by melissam at 1:31 PM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Consider the Oyster
posted by j03 at 1:33 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Buy meat from a local farm. We live in NYC, and literally drive to a farm a few hours outside the city once or twice a year, and bring back ~100 lbs of meat to put in the freezer.

You can also go in with friends to parcel out the cuts, which saves on money outlay and freezer space.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:39 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shrimp imported from Asia is tied to slave- and child-labor, as well as lax environmental regulations, which lower the price of production and make American all-you-can-eat-shrimp platters etc affordable.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:39 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kosher meat is not what you are looking for. Kosher certification is not a guarantee or promise that your meat comes from animals who were treated ethically. in fact, when folks launched an additional Jewish certification that was about the ethics of how meat was raised and slaughtered, there was a lot of pushback. And the largest kosher slaughterhause, Agriprocessors, was discovered to have had some awful practices all while being under supervision. [My bona fides: former vegetarian, former Orthodox Jew, now only eat ethically raised meat.]

In California I can get beef from a vendor at the farmer's market and talk to the guy who manages the herd himself, and I'm pretty sure it's been done humanely. I would look for something like that.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:50 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a longtime ethical vegan with a wickedly high metabolism, so I have Extremely Strident Opinions About These Matters. I am going to try very hard not to editorialize, but please forgive me if it peeks in around the edges; it's a huge, huge part of my life. For starters, Eating Animals is a great introduction if you are concerned primarily about the animal welfare aspect of your diet. For a more advanced look at the topic, I would recommend researching biocentrism.

You're probably not interested in these approaches, but entomophagy and (as we call it here in Wisconsin) "salvage" are certainly viable options for increasing your intake of less-cruel non-vegetarian protein. Cultivated oysters and mussels ("sessile bivalves") are commonly used as a prime example of ethical animal protein for a variety of reasons.

As hundreds of hours of undercover video will show you, many, many farms that market themselves as ethical/free-range/pasture-raised/cage-free/"happy meat" are absolutely nothing of the sort, and there are many heinous farming practices that are outside the purview of those marketing terms. Echoing everyone above, this is why it would definitely be in your best interest to either learn to hunt wild game or get to know the specific people and places involved in raising and processing animals for meat production.

You may be surprised to note that huge swaths of animal agriculture are outright excluded from the already very poorly enforced federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. One of the ramifications of this exclusion is the fact that poultry, fish, and rabbits, among others, can be bled out or boiled while fully conscious and pain-sensate. U.S. humane slaughter laws do not cover 98% of all animals killed for food (cite, PDF) and California is the only state that regulates the slaughter of birds. If you're looking for more ethical meat, I would definitely recommend avoiding poultry and fish proteins above all others. And as mentioned above, pigs are extremely intelligent and very much comparable to dogs, so while I do not want to throw any other species under the bus, I do feel that the idea of eating pigs is significantly more upsetting (IMO less ethical/moral) to me than the idea of eating almost any other living creature on earth.

You might consider going for a "nose to tail" approach and choosing to eat less desirable cuts of meat -- for example, offal is EXTREMELY hip right now, and easier to find on restaurant menus than ever before -- to help ensure that the animal's life was not sacrificed entirely in vain.

Also, it is important to note that dairy and egg production is significantly less humane than (most) meat production. If I knew then what I know now, I would have stopped eating dairy years before I stopped eating meat rather than the other way around. I would provide supporting links, but if you are looking to curtail your exposure to the effects that these industries have on the creatures that are fed into them, I can't give you much more than my word on it. Compassion Over Killing is an organization that does truly great work in this arena, if you're ever ready to look into it.

Insofar as vegetarian proteins are concerned, Gardein and Beyond Meat make extremely convincing meat substitutes. Both are readily available in most Whole Foods locations. Beyond Meat was introduced only recently, but Gardein has been around for years and can be found in the 'frozen natural foods' section of many standard grocery stores. I actually can't eat most faux meat products because they're too realistic for my palate, but their chik'n tenders are amazing. Field Roast is not a faux meat, exactly, but it is absolutely delicious and I have served it to many, many omnivores with zero complaints except "why can't I have more?!"

In terms of chain restaurants, Chipotle offers ostensibly ethical meat, and they recently introduced braised tofu sofritas as a protein option. Also, here is a list of businesses that advocate the use of cage-free eggs -- Krispy Kreme, Red Robin, and Subway (UK) are some restaurants that use only cage-free eggs, all private-label eggs at Fresh Market, Loblaw, Walmart, Costco, Trader Joe's grocery stores are cage-free, and all eggs at Whole Foods are cage-free. Whole Foods is a great place to start if you're looking for more ethically-sourced animal proteins but live somewhere that doesn't have a lot of farms or farmer's markets; they're the only grocer I can think of that has animal welfare standards.

My sincerest thanks for even thinking about this. If you are ever looking for recipes, advice, or support, please feel free to MeMail me -- nothing in the world makes me happier than people seeking out a more ethical diet.
posted by divined by radio at 2:00 PM on October 8, 2013 [11 favorites]

And since nobody else has yet said it and you didn't mention it: Read Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's a deep dive into the ethics of eating that touches on a lot of the suggestions people are making here.

... and, if you've read it already but (like me) find that he seems to have pulled a lot of punches as far as eating meat is concerned, you may also find these books of interest:

- The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. Although Singer is a vegan (he wrote Animal Liberation), this book is actually quite pragmatic in its discussion of different diets, including ones that incorporate meat. It lays out the pros and cons of different meats and seafood in ways that balance a range of concerns (reducing suffering, sustainability, etc.).

- Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, which actually developed in part out of a dissatisfaction with Pollan's conclusions in The Omnivore's Dilemma.
posted by Austenite at 2:03 PM on October 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

As far as insects go, I don't know if you can still get some of this since their kickstarter is closed for now, but one company is making cricket protein bars
posted by melissam at 2:20 PM on October 8, 2013

Alternatively, you could eat the cheapest food available to you and donate the money you save to whatever organization or lobbyist group you think is most likely to further systematic reforms.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 2:50 PM on October 8, 2013

If you are in the Western U.S., have a look into Mary's Chickens. The quality of the meat is superior IMHO as is their treatment of their chickens from chick to slaughter.
posted by michellenoel at 2:57 PM on October 8, 2013

You might enjoy meat-free Mondays, or some other configuration that allows you a defined space to explore vegetarian options, so you could try out tempeh, tofu, veggie burgers, pasta and beans, egg dishes -- the items that make up a lot of vegetarian diets.

I stopped eating meat a bit ago out of the same concerns as you and it's been a weird experience. The longer I go without doing it, the more it seems impossible to say, order a burger, even though I wouldn't call myself vegetarian, just 'a person who isn't eating meat right now'.

But anyway, I'd maybe look at small ways you could explore the whole lifestyle without committing. That kind of research might be fruitful in the long run for you.

I will tell you if you're flinchy on the subject of animal cruelty now, for me anyway, you start walking down the path and you get more and more flinchy about it. So you do this little bit ethically and the gap between what you're ethically striving for and the reality of trying to achieve it becomes increasingly apparent. I could never be vegan, but I can totally see how one gets there.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:12 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't live near a Whole Foods and we're on a grad student budget in a town with a very high cost of living, so the meat choices we've made so far are:
- national brand humanely raised cold cuts and sausages
- national brand organic chicken (drumsticks and thighs are the cheapest and can be braised into hearty stews)
- occasional steaks from the local ranchers at the farmers market
- occasional wild-caught fish (either Alaskan pollock etc in the frozen section or fresh in the seafood case)
- local cheese and butter from a small local dairy
- the 50% off bin of about-to-expire bacon and hot dogs

We're most concerned with the impacts of factory farming on workers' health and livelihoods, both within North America and globally. I also care about the environmental impacts and animal welfare but prioritize the former.

Mostly, I wish you good luck on making changes. Addressing the abuse and exploitation (both of humans and animals) embedded in our food system is really hard, especially from a purely individual consumer perspective. I'll second or third the folks upthread who have suggested supporting groups working on these issues, whether with time or money.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:30 PM on October 8, 2013

Hmm. Cut back on a certain unit of meat per month. E.g. Have it six days a week this month, five days a week the next month, etc. etc. There's some neuroscience research that if you want to make significant life changes it can be a slam dunk to do it incrementally, because it makes it easier to stick with your goals. And achieving small goals creates motivation and startup energy to continue setting new goals and meeting them, resulting in a snowball effect.

I've been a vegetarian for I guess about four years now, and I have no craving for meat anymore. It really does subside if you wean yourself off it.

In the meantime, make a point to eat cage free eggs, free range chicken, stuff like that.
posted by mermily at 5:21 PM on October 8, 2013

/People often talk about hunting their own meat. This avoids the day-to-day suffering that, say, factory farming causes, but what about the pain animals feel when they are killed (which I'd argue could well be worse in the case of hunting than in farming)?

Most hunters strive to kill with one shot and not have the animal run more than a very short distance or drop on the spot. There is a huge amount of peer pressure surrounding this practice. While its arguably more traumatic than modern slaughter practices it is a much better end than mant of the alternatives. Nature, red in tooth and claw and all that. Also road accidents.
posted by fshgrl at 5:27 PM on October 8, 2013

"People often talk about hunting their own meat. This avoids the day-to-day suffering that, say, factory farming causes, but what about the pain animals feel when they are killed (which I'd argue could well be worse in the case of hunting than in farming)?"

Ideally hunters go out into the wild with the express intent of killing cleanly. I know no hunters that don't follow this mantra. Is it clean all the time? No, it is not. However, neither is nature. Especially for species that are over populated and starving to death/getting hit by cars (such as white tailed deer), hunting is a viable alternative to decreasing net suffering in the world. Death hurts no matter what, unless one is lucky enough to be under anesthesia at the time. Death from a well placed shot is not a terrible way to go.
posted by corn_bread at 5:52 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having worked on small family farms, I would vote you go that route - check out the farmers markets and VISIT the farm; ask them what abattoir they use, and research them, too. I also agree that hunting (deer, for example) is usually about as good as it gets - if you're buying from a good marksmen the deer won't have known what hit him - even less stress than the abattoir, in my opinion.

I confess that I have a soft spot for pigs - they are indeed quite smart. But they also bacon (conflict!). There is no animal so dumb it likes (or is oblivious to) going to slaughter, except at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Even if they have no idea what's about to happen, and it's done as efficiently and humanely as possible, it almost always involves restraining them for a minute, which they find weird and don't like. Watch some nature shows of lions hunting to put this into perspective: nature is not nice.

Also, think about where eggs and dairy and the like come from: females; very likely ones having babies, half of which are male. (Eggs generally aren't fertilized... but you do need to continually breed new laying hens, and half those chicks are always going to be male.) A lot of your meat is male, and most farms - even the most ethical ones - can't justify housing, feeding, and caring for retired females. Farms are a business with a thin profit margin at the best of times. Since working on farms, I personally lean toward the all-or-nothing vegan-or-ominvore view. Vegetarian is better than nothing... but it's not all most people think, either. I tend to be anemic, so I eat as ethically omnivore as my budget allows.

If you memail me your location, I may be able to make some recommendations.
posted by jrobin276 at 6:30 PM on October 8, 2013

I'm not ready to become a vegetarian yet, but I would like to eat more ethically. [...] What should I be eating more of (specifically meat, but I'd be open to a few vegetarian suggestions too)?

It's not as if you have to eat no animals or eat all of the animals. There is lots of room between eating no animals and eating all of the animals. You could eat some animals, only not as many as you used to eat. And then make up for it by eating more vegetables, just as the doctors recommend.

Consider the chicken. A chicken is a nice warm-blooded feathery bird. If you are an average meat-eating American, 26 of these birds will be confined, killed, and dismembered just for you this year. But if you cut your chicken consumption in half, that's 13 birds that you wouldn't put through all that in this year alone. You could save a thousand birds from a nasty fate if you cut your chicken consumption in half over your lifetime.
posted by pracowity at 12:59 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please don't eat halal and kosher meat. There's evidence to suggest that animals slaughtered in this way suffer considerably more than animals stunned first before they're slaughtered. Several countries (Norway, Sweden, New Zealand and Switzerland included) have banned religious slaughter of this sort. Watch out for halal/kosher restaurants, which often aren't prominently labelled.

With regards to hunting: I certainly think that if you're killing and eating overpopulated species then that's a net reduction in the suffering they would otherwise experience. But switching from, say, shop-bought venison to venison you shot yourself will only effect a small reduction in the amount of suffering your diet causes if you also regularly eat, say, factory-farmed chicken.

My advice would be to go for the low-hanging fruit first, so to speak, by cutting out fish, eggs, and chicken in that order, even if you replace all of those with beef (though obviously you'd make bigger gains by replacing them with something non-meaty).
posted by henryaj at 8:43 AM on October 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Anecdotally, I've had no problems with vegetarianism, no particular cravings for meat, and found that once you actually cut out meat and fish (and say to yourself that that's what you're doing), it's quite easy to stick to. It also helps having a stock reason for your dietary choices: in my case, I want to reduce the amount of suffering my diet causes. And hey, vegetarians live longer, which fits nicely with my life-extension bent!
posted by henryaj at 8:49 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

This thread is really interesting and finding out that there are so many people that don't take an all or nothing approach to eating meat. Usually people get very confused about my eating habits even when I've explained them, because I don't call myself a vegetarian, and I do eat meat on a seldom occasion ( after factoring in many factors), and it's all the same to them. For example they'll order a meat pizza and look at me weird when I won't touch it. They also look at me weird when I say I won't ever eat pork, and when they ask why I say "because they're really cute".

I've been eating little meat (and dairy) for about 15 years and I still get cravings, but they are usually very specific either in time or content. But once you cut down meat it's very hard to eat it casually or mindlessly. Even when I do on occasion indulge at a restaurant I deliberate for a long time about if this is the situation I want to eat meat in (hence not eating a friend's pepperoni pizza just because it's there), and this includes not only questions of the ethics of raising meat, but my mood, what kind of meaning that food has for me ( for example chicken soup when you're sick, or some other food you grew up with and has meaning for you vs something faddy like bacon ice cream), whether it's a special occasion, etc, etc. I don't think most people have an appreciation for nuances and they have to take an all or nothing approach to things and assume it's the only way that makes sense, but it isn't.
posted by Blitz at 11:58 AM on October 9, 2013

Kosher slaughter is not humane.
Halal slaughter may or may not be humane.

Kosher (shechita) slaughter I guess used to be relatively humane compared to other, even crueler, killing methods, but in following the letter of the law, it is now more cruel than current humane killing practices.
Most humane killing methods have death or unconsciousness induced by electrical stunning, but strict kosher doesn't allow stunning prior to inducing death by slitting the animals throat.

In the US, kosher slaughter has special exemptions from animal welfare laws.

So yeah, NZ banned killing cows without stunning them first, we did ban killing chickens without stunning too, but they made a kosher exemption. There's a pretty creepy and inaccurate entry in Wiki that implies NZ banned inhumane slaughter for financial reasons, which is pretty lame considering the national financial impact of not being able to export to many kosher markets. There was a financial disincentive there, the ban was for animal welfare reasons.

NZ beef is still able to be halal, because stunning is permitted before death.


Anyway, basically you want free-range, non-factory farmed, humanely killed meat. You may have an extra requirement for organic, etc, and it sounds like the intelligence of the animal is a factor (eg pigs). So, kind of the opposite of henryaj's post.

I don't mind eating a creature as long as it didn't live and die in suffering.
posted by Elysum at 9:07 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

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